Blue Raiders Set to Kick Off SeasonAugust 29, 2002 · MT Media Relations
His team's first opportunity will come on Saturday in Birmingham against SEC foe Alabama. The game is slated to kick off at 11:37 AM from historic Legion Field and will be televised regionally on Jefferson Pilot's SEC Game of the Week. The game can be seen locally on Nashville's UPN Ch. 30 (local Comcast cable channel 14).
"We've had a good fall camp and we've got a great challenge ahead of us. We've heard it from everybody and all around the country about our schedule and it starts this week," McCollum said.
McCollum said that his plan this fall was to continue to improve the physicality of his team and he put his team through a very demanding camp to prepare for the season. It is his hope that the work will pay early dividends as the Blue Raiders will face a very tough Alabama squad.
McCollum said, "We're going against a very physical football team on both sides of the ball, starting with their offensive and defensive fronts. At those spots they'll be as good as anyone in the country. We know that it's going to be a physical football game and we can't make mistakes if we're going to have a chance in this game. "
Despite a few question marks coming into the game, the Blue Raiders do have a great deal of experience returning to the field, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
The offensive line, which was heralded as the Sun Belt's best a year ago, returns intact. The experience up front should be a plus for a team that ranked fifth nationally in total offense in 2001.
With the offensive line setting the tone, all eyes will fall squarely on senior tailback Dwone Hicks. Hicks, whose Heisman Trophy campaign has gathered some steam this week with his appearance in USA Today, hails from Huntsville, AL, and has a knack for putting on a show against nationally-known opponents. In Hicks' seven games against teams from BCS leagues over the past two years, he is averaging 118.6 yards per game and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark five times.
With all of the returning experience on offense, it will be up to a newcomer to distribute the football.
Redshirt Andrico Hines will be under center for the first time in a Division IA game when the Blue Raiders hit the field against Alabama. However, he isn't exactly as green as one might think.
Hines was with the Blue Raiders all of last season, practicing, traveling with the team, and even signaling in the plays from the sidelines during games. All of the learning seems to have paid off as Hines has been impressive in camp and seems to have a good understanding of the team's frenetic, no-huddle attack.
McCollum said, "We have all of the confidence in the world in him and he has a lot of ability. He's just got to get out there and play. Andrico's job in our offense is to get the balls to the guys who can make plays. I'm excited to see him play. He's just got to get out there, get some snaps, get hit a couple of times, and get settled down. We have all of the confidence in the world that he's going to be able to do that."
The Blue Raiders' biggest challenge on Saturday may come in the trenches. The Alabama offensive and defensive fronts are big and physical, presenting a test for the Blue Raiders that will line up against the Tide on the lines. However, McCollum feels that the 2002 Blue Raiders are going to be the best-equipped team he has put on the field to face this type of opponent.
Said McCollum, "We always like to think of things in the positive. Talent-wise, we feel like we're bigger, stronger, and faster than we have been, but you won't know that for sure until you get out there, and we're going to have to do it against one of the better teams in the country. We know that's how we have to play."
The Blue Raider defense will also be tested in the game. The unit has improved steadily under the McCollum regime, and most pundits expect the defense to be the best of the IA era thus far. Along with squaring off against an imposing Alabama offensive front, the defense will be charged with containing one of the best backfields in the nation.
The Tide are led by Ahmaad Galloway, a high school teammate of Blue Raider Tyrone Calico, and Nashville's Santonio Beard. Texas Tech transfer Shaud Williams should also be a factor for Alabama this season.
Quarterback Tyler Watts also presents a big defensive challenge for the Blue Raiders as he is a deadly option weapon with the ability to run and throw equally well.
"When you put Beard and Galloway back there together it's two really good running backs. The biggest thing for us is to execute what we do. Great backs are going to get yards and we know that. What we have to do is prevent big plays and be a great tackling team" McCollum said. "[Watts is] a winner. All of the things that you talk about that you want to see in players, he brings all of them. We see the same things that a lot of other people say. Some people say that he can't throw it, but he can throw the football. He can do the things that good quarterbacks can do."
All told, the Blue Raiders certainly face a daunting task in trying to upset the Crimson Tide in front of over 80,000 fans. But the team has been in situations like this before and has bought into McCollum's philosophy of approaching these games as great opportunities to help the program grow into national recognition.
Hicks concludes, "We had a few chances [last year], but didn't perform as well as we wanted to. To be able to go out and play against SEC teams and to play against a school with great tradition such as Alabama, that's going to be great for our team and university. It's going to be great. It's always fun to go out there and play against SEC teams. Everyone always loves the atmosphere [in the big games]. I know I do."
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